The Bishop of Derry will begin the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy by attending a service in the nearby Protestant Church this Sunday morning.
Dr. Donal McKeown will join the congregation in the Church of Ireland’s Christ Church at 11 a.m. for the start of what is believed to be a unique ceremony which will culminate in the opening of the Holy Door at nearby St Eugene’s Cathedral.
It is believed that it will be the only ceremony of its kind which will begin in a church belonging to another Christian denomination.
The Derry Bishop said that Pope Francis’s declaration that the next twelve months should be a year of Mercy was part of the pontiff’s desire to reach out to people in pain and distress.
“There is so much fear, conflict, anger and hurt,” he told the ‘Journal.’ “In Ireland and in Derry we want to get out the message that God is a God of compassion. It’s a chance for us in church to experience the mercy of God. A way to see if we can help people who are in pain to know some sort of healing in their lives.”
Bishop McKeown says he’s looking forward to the beginning of the Year of Mercy on Sunday.
“We will begin with the service at the Church of Ireland Church,” he said. “We will then begin our pilgrimage of mercy to St. Eugene’s cathedral.
“Pilgrimage will form an important part of our year of Mercy. Rome, Lourdes and Lough Derg, but also a series of local pilgrimages. Maybe a pilgrimage to a Mass rock, or walk to Lough Derg, before we complete the three day pilgrimage there. We are thinking about having a card which can be stamped when someone completes a pilgrimage.”
Bishop McKeown also revealed that the sacrament of reconciliation will be available on the Saturday before Christmas.
“In Derry, Buncrana, Omagh and Maghera we will be holding confessions all day,” he said.
He stressed that these would not be quickie confessions but a time when people can speak one on one to a priest.
“There are people who want the time for reflection and we want to make that opportunity available,” he said. “People want time, almost therapeutically, to name things that are bugging their lives. Our faith encourages us to go on that inward journey. We also want to work with priests to ensure that in confession they are compassionate and know how to deal with people who are coming in with serious issues. “
Welcoming Bishop McKeown to Christ Church Archdeacon Robert Miller said: “It is a great honour for the congregation of Christ Church to have been included in the ceremony to open the Holy Door in our neighbouring church, St Eugene’s Cathedral. The friendship between our two churches has been growing and deepening in recent years and Sunday’s unique occasion – the only ceremony of its kind we are aware of to begin in another Christian denomination’s Church – is a further sign of that developing relationship. I wish St Eugene’s every success during the Year of Mercy and beyond. Everyone is welcome to join the Churches in this unique celebration. ““